Down to the Wire for Wabtec Talks
There are nine days remaining in the 90-day interim agreement between Wabtec and 1,700 union members in UE locals 506 and 618.
The interim agreement moved union workers off the picket line March 6, ending a nine-day work stoppage that began one day after Wabtec, headquartered near Pittsburgh, acquired the longtime GE Transportation business.
It gave the two sides more time at the bargaining table to hammer out their first ever contract after GE spun off its transportation business.
The signature conversation in the talks, at least publicly, has been about Wabtec's call for a lower wage for new hires---what the company has referred to as a two-tier or market-based wage.
In interviews with Erie News Now UE 506 Union President Scott Slawson has declined to say that the union membership would "never" accept a lower tier starting wage. But he has said they are negotiating to maintain a living wage for future employees, and that the end result of the negotiations needs to be something that is in his words "fair and equitable for both sides."
The two sides met at the bargaining table for four days of talks last week. Union leadership has not said if or when they will take any company proposals to the rank and file membership for a vote. They have not released a new statement analyzing the company's proposals since May 21.
On Friday, Erie site manager Rich Krolczyk again took his take on the talks directly to workers across the company in the following letter:
With a June 3 interim agreement deadline looming, a significant gap remains between Wabtec and the UE Local 506 and 618’s respective wage proposals.
We stand firm in our belief that a competitive market-based wage structure is the best strategy for preserving production jobs and bringing new work and employment to the Erie plant and have shared multiple proposals with the Union to achieve this goal. Never have we asked current employees to take a pay cut. Instead, Wabtec is proposing to hire new employees at a lower wage rate that averages $22 per hour – well above wages for manufacturing work in the Erie area. We have even proposed a pathway for new hires to progress up to the high wage rates currently enjoyed by Erie plant employees.
Unfortunately, the Union continues to reject these proposals.
It is important to us that you understand the facts. Our current proposal provides high wages, meaningful benefits, safe working conditions and rewarding work, including the following:
- Average wages of approximately $35 per hour for all current employees -- the best manufacturing wages in the region.
- Average new hire wage rate in excess of $22 per hour – well above market wages in the region.
- Recall rights for up to three years based on seniority.
- No mandatory overtime.
- Overtime premium pay after eight hours / double time after 12 hours.
- Standard Monday-Friday work week.
- Three paid personal illness days each year.
- Up to five weeks of paid vacation, based upon years of service.
- Twelve paid holidays.
- Generous health and welfare benefits, including medical, dental, vision, life and disability benefits.
- Retirement (401K) plan with a 3% Company contribution plus an additional 3% matching contribution.
- Five-year agreement.
We believe that these terms are fair and reasonable, and will allow this site to stabilize, succeed and thrive. We urge the Union to reach an agreement so we can move forward together. The future of this plant, our employees and the community depend on it.
We have no official response from Scott Slawson to the letter. But when asked if last week's talks offered any hope, the union president only said, "There's always hope."